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Ask the Pastor

† Theological musings and answers to selected questions by a confessional Lutheran pastor.

01 July 2006

The Church’s Building Blocks

Q: What are the building blocks upon which the church is built?

Christ CrucifiedA: Ultimately, the Church has only one Building Block, Christ, the Cornerstone. This is done through the Gospel of the forgiveness of sins, since only forgiveness for Christ’s sake allows us to become part of His the Church.

Consider the Lord’s response to Peter’s confession, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God. (Matthew 16:16)” Jesus called him “blessed,” noting that the content of this confession came from Jesus’ “Father in heaven. (v. 17)”

While some interpret the following verses to mean that Peter was the rock upon which Christ would build His Church (v. 18), it makes more sense both linguistically and theologically to understand that the Rock against which “the gates of hell shall not prevail” is actually Jesus Himself and the fact that He is the Christ. The Church is built as the Holy Spirit moves people to believe the same and make the same confession as did Simon Peter.

Built on the RockUpon this Rock who is Christ (see also 1 Corinthians 10:4), this Cornerstone (Psalm 118:22, et al.), this Foundation (1 Corinthians 3:11) the Lord builds His Church, not of lifeless bricks, but of “living stones” — individual believers in Christ (1 Peter 2:5). Scripture also notes that upon the Cornerstone, God set the “foundation” of the sure word of His “apostles and prophets” so that in Christ, the whole Church, “being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. (Ephesians 2:20-22)”

Again, the Scriptures tell us that we are made believers and joined together in the Church, the body of Christ through Holy Baptism and the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Actually, Baptism, Absolution, the preaching and teaching of the Gospel, and the Lord’s Supper aren’t the “building blocks” of which you ask — they are the “construction tools” in the hands of God’s master Craftsman, the Holy Spirit. We call them the “means of grace” because through them, God forgives, renews, and strengthens us and joins individuals together into Christ’s Church.

CornerstoneOur Savior calls each of us to build our spiritual house upon Him — the true and solid Rock. In Matthew 7:24-27, He showed how believers weather all disasters when our trust is grounded in Him. He also warned that if our confidence is anywhere else, the storms of life will destroy us.

The Church’s hymnody echoes God’s Word in confessing the support, strength, and structure we have in our Savior and the divine upbuilding done by our Lord through His Word and the Holy Spirit. Here follows but a partial sample from only one hymnal:

The Church’s One Foundation

   The Church’s one foundation
   Is Jesus Christ, her Lord;
   She is His new creation
   By water and the Word.
   From heaven He came and sought her
   To be His holy bride;
   With His own blood He bought her,
   And for her life He died. (473:1)

Christ Is Our Corner-Stone

   Christ is our Corner-stone,
   On Him alone we build;
   With His true saints alone
   The courts of heaven are filled.
   On His great love
   Our hopes we place
   Of present grace
   And joys above. (465:1)

Christ, Thou Art the Sure Foundation

   Christ, Thou art the sure Foundation,
   Thou the Head and Corner-stone;
   Chosen of the Lord and precious
   Binding all the Church in one;
   Thou Thy Zion’s Help forever
   And her Confidence alone. (466:1)

How Firm a Foundation, Ye Saints of the Lord

   How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord,
   Is laid for your faith in His excellent Word!
   What more can He say than to you He hath said
   Who unto the Savior for refuge have fled? (427:1)

Stricken, Smitten, and Afflicted

   Here we have a firm foundation;
   Here the refuge of the lost;
   Christ, the rock of our salvation,
   His the name of which we boast.
   Lamb of God, for sinners wounded,
   Sacrifice to cancel guilt!
   None shall ever be confounded
   Who on him their hope have built. (116:4)

If God Himself Be for Me

   I build on this foundation,
   That Jesus and His blood
   Alone are my salvation,
   The true, eternal good.
   Without Him all that pleases
   Is valueless on earth;
   The gifts I owe to Jesus
   Alone my love are worth. (528:3)

Oh, Sing with Exultation

   Christ is the sure Foundation
   The builder did reject,
   But He for our salvation
   Is precious and elect
   And made the Corner-stone
   On which the Church is founded;
   This marvel now is sounded,
   The work of God alone. (217:3)

Built on the Rock the Church Doth Stand

   We are God’s house of living stones,
   Builded for His habitation;
   He through baptismal grace us owns
   Heirs of His wondrous salvation.
   Were we but two His name to tell,
   Yet He would deign with us to dwell,
   With all His grace and His favor. (467:3)

Hymns cited are public domain from The Lutheran Hymnal. Numbers in parentheses reflect hymn and stanza numbers. You may find out more about them, including authors, composers, and tunes, at Lutheran-Hymnal.com and CyberHymnal.

Scripture quoted from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version™, © 2001 by Crossway Bibles.

Send email to Ask the Pastor.

Walter Snyder is the pastor of Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Emma, Missouri and coauthor of the book What Do Lutherans Believe.

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